The bolded passage from Kierkegaard's Journals (and popularized by Provocations, the free e-Book) is fast becoming his most popular introduction to his work both among academics and on the Internet. Even some of my non-Kierkegaard reading friends (aka most of them haha) have heard of this quote and wanted to tell me about it. The non-bolded passages are surrounding paragraphs to establish context.
The current emphasis on getting back to the Bible has, sadly, created religiosity out of learning and literalistic chicanery - a sheer diversion. Tragically this kind of knowledge has gradually trickled down to the masses so that no one can read the Bible simply any more. All our Bible learning has become nothing but a fortress of excuses and escapes. When it comes to existence, to obedience there is always something else we have to first take care of. We live under the illusion that we must first have the interpretation right or the belief in perfect form before we can begin to live - that is, we never get around to doing what the Word says.
Let us collect all the Bibles and bring them out to an open place or up on a mountain and then, while we all kneel, let someone talk to God in this manner: Take this book back. We Christians, such as we are, are not fit to involve ourselves with such a thing; it only makes us arrogant and unhappy. We are not ready for it. In other words, I suggest that we, like those inhabitants whose herd of pigs plunged into the water and died, beg Christ "to leave the neighborhood" (Matthew 8:34). This would at least be honest talk - something very different from the nauseating, hypocritical, scholarship that is so prevalent today.
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament. I open the New Testament and read: "If you want to be perfect, then sell all your goods and give to the poor and come follow me." (Matthew 19:21) Good God, if we were to actually do this, all the capitalists, the officeholders, and the entrepreneurs, the whole society in fact, would be almost beggars! We would be sunk if it were not for Christian scholarship! Praise be to everyone who works to consolidate the reputation of Christian scholarship, which helps to restrain the New Testament, this confounded book which would run us all down if it got loose.
The subject matter is indeed consistent with Kierkegaard's stinging criticism against 19th century European Christianity and its institutions in the Moment and For Self-Examination. In the Moment, Kierkegaard says that Christianity's development was co-opted by the values of the 3rd and 4th century Christian pagans who felt fearful of early Christianity and tried to weaken and declaw the more horrifying aspects, while emphasizing the more virtous and benevolent aspects, making it nice and snuggly. Christmas was also introduced around this time as a replacement for pagan festivals, prompting Kierkegaard to declare the holiday as observed, a heresy.
One important thing to note in this passage is that Kierkegaard says, "We Christians", not "You Christians". He includes himself as a scheming swindler, because after all, he is also a commentator on various Biblical passages in Works of Love, Practice in Christianity, not to mention his most famous commentary on Genesis 22 in Fear and Trembling. No doubt Kierkegaard choose Matthew 19 to use as an example to reflect his own failure to comply with the Bible.